Category: The Amazing Race

'The Amazing Race' recap: ready, set, go!

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Hold on, this is going to go fast! Which is one of the excellent things about "The Amazing Race" -- how fast it moves. So before the first commercial, we meet the 11 teams competing in the 19th season of the Emmy-winning race around the world.

1. Andy and Tommy: snowboarders, now pro, once Olympians.

2. Ethan and Jenna: both "Survivor" winners (who seem to think they can conceal that from the other players, as if competitors on one reality TV show haven't watched other reality TV shows).

3. Laurence and Zac: father and son. L.A. Times readers may recognize them as the sailing Sunderlands of Thousand Oaks -- in 2009, Zac became the youngest person to sail around the world solo (his sister Abby later tried and failed to do the same thing, after her boat was disabled by a storm in the Indian Ocean).

4. Ernie and Cindy: recently engaged.

5. Justin and Jennifer: brother and sister (who bicker).

6. Bill and Cathi: long-married grandparents who are farmers (and used to be educators).

7. Liz and Marie: twin blonds. "We don't even literally have to talk to each other," one says.

8. Jeremy and Sandy: dating now, but they don't cohabitate.

9. Ron and Bill: domestic partners who are flight attendants.

10. Marcus and Amani: a former NFL player and his wife. He is evasive about his former football career, except when he's talking to the camera, when he readily points out that he used to guard Peyton Manning.

11. Kaylanie and Lisa: former Las Vegas showgirls who look freakishly similar for people who aren't related.

Got that? It took longer to type it than it did for "The Amazing Race" to show it. The contestants are already in the middle of a madcap word puzzle with colorful paper umbrellas. The last team -- Kaylani and Lisa -- will get a new penalty called a Hazard that has to be done in this leg of the race. The teams leave from Los Angeles for Taipei, Taiwan.

If early successes can mean anything, the snowboarders are the first to finish the first task, followed by NFL man Marcus and wife Amani, then the blond twins, then Ethan and Jenna. Before they all get on the plane, word gets around that Ethan and Jenna had both won "Survivor" -- knowing that meant a million dollars each, someone calls them "greedy."

Meanwhile, Kaylani drops her passport at a gas station and she and Lisa drive away, oblivious. What could save them? Could it be a social network?

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New and returning shows for the 2011 season

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Here's a roundup of some of the highlights of the new and returning series in the 2011 fall TV season.

“Survivor: South Pacific” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, CBS: (season premiere) The contestants begin competing for a million-dollar prize. (N)

“H8R” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, KTLA: (series premiere) TV personality Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi tries to win over a person who dislikes her; Jake Pavelka (“Bachelor”) faces his biggest hater. (N)

“America's Next Top Model” 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, KTLA: (season premiere) Fan-favorite contestants from past cycles return to compete; the women reenact memorable moments during the first photo shoot; guest judge Nicki Minaj. (N)

“Operation Repo” 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, Tru: (season premiere) Vehicle repossession pros deal with confrontations in California's San Fernando Valley. (N)

“Up All Night” 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, NBC: (series premiere) Reagan Brinkley tries to adjust to her new life as she returns from maternity leave to her job as a talk show executive producer to support her stay-at-home husband and their baby. (N)

“Hulk Hogan's Micro Championship Wrestling” 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, Tru: (series premiere) Hulk Hogan provides little wrestlers with advice, guidance and training; inside all of the insane action, conflict and drama that it takes to create a pro wrestling league from scratch. (N)

“Free Agents” 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, NBC: (series premiere) Two co-workers, both still reeling from their last relationships, try to sort out their relationship after a moment of weakness finds them in bed together. (N)

“The Vampire Diaries” 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, KTLA: (season premiere) In "The Birthday," Caroline plans a party for Elena's 18th birthday; Damon and Elena search for Stefan; Klaus and Stefan track a werewolf; Jeremy struggles with visions of ghosts. (N)

“The Secret Circle” 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, KTLA: (series premiere) After her mother dies in a mysterious accident, Cassie Blake moves to a small town to live with her grandmother. After a series of strange and dangerous events, Cassie's new friends reveal a secret. (N)

“Angels Among Us” 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, CMT: (series premiere) Commemorating the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. (N)

“It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, FX: (season premiere) In "Frank's Pretty Woman," the gang attempts an image makeover to uncover the heart of gold that exists deep inside Frank's prostitute fiancee. (N)

“Archer” 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, FX: (season premiere) In "Heart of Archness, Part I," Archer is finally tracked down in the South Pacific by handsome adventurer Rip Riley. (Part 1 of 3) (N)

“Ben 10: Ultimate Alien” 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, Toon Disney: (season premiere) In "The Purge," Old George reignites a war against all aliens on Earth. (N)

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, Toon Disney: (season premiere) In "Water War: Gungan Attack," inhabitants of Mon Calamari are on the brink of civil war; the Jedi realize they need help from a powerful and amphibious ally to drive out Separatist invaders. (N)

“Need to Know” 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, KOCE: (season premiere) Reports on the economy, environment and energy, health, national security and culture. (N)

“20/20” 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, ABC: (season premiere) Investigative reporting. (N)


“Celebrity Nightmares Decoded” 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, Biography: (series premiere) Dustin "Screech” Diamond dreams of a faceless butcher; Danielle Staub wakes up hanging out of her bed after a nightmare; Nicole Eggert is tormented by snakes in her nightmares; Too Short dreams of meeting a ferocious dog. (N)

“How I Met Your Mother” 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, CBS: (season premiere) In "The Best Man," Barney and Ted reminisce about Punchy's wedding; Robin considers confessing her feelings. (N) 

“The Sing-Off” 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, NBC: (season premiere) Eight of the 16 competing groups unite to perform together. (N) 

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Cast for 'The Amazing Race' Season 19 announced

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This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

Southern California mariner Zac Sunderland, the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone, will be among the participants when the 19th season of CBS' "The Amazing Race" premieres Sept. 25.

The 19-year-old Sunderland, who was 17 when he completed his 13-month quest to sail around the world alone in 2009, will be paired with his father, yacht manager Laurence Sunderland. That's the Thousand Oaks duo on the top row, far left, in the photo above.

The show will spotlight 11 new teams racing around the globe, including first-time visits to Indonesia, Malawi, Belgium and Denmark. The teams will travel through four continents and 20 cities and cover nearly 40,000 miles.

One team will feature Andy Finch and Tommy Czeschin, who are Olympic snowboarders. Former NFL player and coach Marcus Pollard will be paired with his wife and business owner Amani Pollard. 'Survivor' winners Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca will comprise another team.

[For the Record, 5:26 p.m. Aug. 31: Earlier versions of this post conflated the number of years and seasons that “The Amazing Race” has been on television. The cycle of shows beginning Sept. 25 will be the 19th season of the series, which is marking 10 years since it debuted.]

ALSO:

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-- Greg Braxton

Photo: Cast of "The Amazing Race." Credit: CBS

'Amazing Race' recap: Despite the wind, it does not look like the brochure

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Ooh, they're sneaky petes, those 'Amazing Race' producers.  All season long, sisters Jen and Kisha have been the most stubbornly overlooked and under-dramatized team in the pack. Sure, they had back story (raised by a single mom). They had wingspan, they had determination. But aside from Kisha's woodpecker laugh and Jen's habit of dropping expletives under duress, there was little to distinguish them from the other racers, and in retrospect, it seems clear they liked it that way. Never once did they capture a leg; never once did they finish last. They merely persevered, which is as good a prescription as any for success in this wacky orgy of blood and sweat and tears and montage and product placement.

And, more than anything, fate. Who but Aeschylus could explain why Gary and Mallory should pin their hopes on the most terrified-looking cabbie I have seen in many seasons of "Race" worship?  Again and again, father and daughter pleaded with their driver, exhorted him to find a way to the Rickenbocker Marina, cast their eyes heavenward. Again and again, the camera cut to the cabbie's face: shrunken, slack, sweaty with the prospect of nationally televised humiliation. (And for all that, he signed the release form. Everyone signs the release form.)

Greek tragedy aside, "The Amazing Race" can make an equally compelling case for free will. Which is to ask: "Zev. Justin.  What in Nietzsche's name were you thinking?"

I mean, trying to sell bikini tops on Rio's Copacabana beach?  That's like vending Botox injections at the Oscars. The market is glutted, guys. Move on. Maybe you were just too disoriented by your Brazilian wax job, which had the feeling of an outtake from "Marathon Man," although Justin found a less unnerving cultural allusion from "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." "Kelly Clarkson!" he bellowed, before calmly assuring his personal torturer: "I swear to God, I’m going to punch you in the face."

The whole arc of the Rio challenges -– samba, depilation, wheedling money from hot chicks -– suggested that someone in the "Race" squad had it in for straight white lunks. By contrast, the penultimate challenge of the Miami episode -– re-creating the decor of a trailer-park frontyard, right down to the miniature picket fence and the condiments on the table -– was like something lifted from George Wallace’s presidential playbook. The sight of Galway Bay's good ol' boys and girls chortling at our (mostly) African American contestants passed beyond local color into creepiness. Nothing, though, prepared me for the sight of Miz Rawls, a pint-sized white-trash Martha Stewart with hair that even hurricanes steer clear of and a way with gentle reproofs: "Despite the wind, it does not look like the brochure."

Other highlights:

  • Zev's encapsulation of his season with Justin: "He was the race, and I was the amazing."
  • Big Easy wading through the Florida ocean and hoisting up his striped basketball shorts like a Gay '90s bathing beauty. 
  • Mallory, trailing Freud-fumes from Vienna: "It's funny to be waxed alongside your dad."
  • The nymph at Jules' Undersea Lodge whose obstructive actions prompted Jen to snarl: "Um, hello? Little Mermaid?"
  • Jen, explaining her aversion to swimming: "I'm not afraid of water, I just panic. You know, at appropriate times when someone should panic."
  • So another season is done, and the votes are in. Mine, anyway. I hereby declare "Unfinished Business" to be the best idea "Race" has had in a long time. Indeed, so emotionally satisfying is it to give beloved TV characters a second chance that I'm already looking for ways to backdate it. Can't we lock Rob Lowe in his "West Wing" office? Glue Shelley Long to her "Cheers" bar seat?  And, for the love of all that's holy, send Trapper John back to Korea? 

    A final note to Mallory: If you think Zev and Justin are the hairiest guys you've ever seen, I know just the bar to take you to.

    See you next season, "Race"-ers!

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    -- Louis Bayard

    Photo: Phil Keoghan (left) and sisters Kisha (center) and Jen on "Amazing Race." Credit: CBS

    'The Amazing Race' recap: Keeping the hog wound down

    Race Technically speaking, when Joseph Conrad penned his immortal line “The horror! The horror!” he could not have been watching Zev in the throes of a marathon struggle with melted cheese.  But wasn’t Zev’s face exactly what Conrad had in mind?  That look of dead-eyed, hollow-cheeked soul rot?  It’s what happens to a guy when he stakes his fortunes on finishing a big pot of Alpine goo to the accompaniment of accordions.  “I’m not very fondue of this fondue,” Zev declared.  And after he and Justin had belched and vomited and staggered their way to first place, Zev was moved to add: “We’re just in it for the fondue of it.”  To which Justin (and no one else in the world) replied: “Ha ha.” 

    Heterosexual flirting did break out in Episode 9 of “Amazing Race” -- unless I’m mistaken, Kisha and Jen have some serious eyes for the Trotters -- but this has been the season of bromance.  And so it seems particularly sad that the show’s only pair of actual brothers should at last bite the dust.  Watching Jet and Cord claw their way out of last place time and again has been a source of parental frustration for me.  At the end of every episode, I want to sit them down and pour them two drams of tough love.  “Boys, boys, why do you keep getting off to such bad starts?  Why are you always taking the wrong planes?  And Jet, honey, how’d you manage to add 13 kilometers to the length of Liechtenstein?  Seriously, did you throw in Belgium too?”

    And then I want to turn my wagging finger on the rest of the contestants: “Why you always trying to keep my sweet Okies down?  Why’d you U-turn 'em, Trotters?  And Kent, what’s with that crack about putting ‘em on ice?  You know, it’s not just anyone who can climb on top a motorized Solex and say, ‘I’m a-gonna keep this hog wound down,’ and make it sound so very charming.  Something you’d want your daughter to hear someday.  When she’s good 'n' ready.” 

    Well, it’s no use, the cowboys are gone.  And the only upside is that without the stark example of their decency I may even grow to admire the dating Goths, whose dysfunctions are beginning to look crazily strategic.  Yes, the sniping continues. (“Ow, you hit my ankle!” “You need to get it together!” “Stop being stupid!”)  And, yes, Kent is the biggest cloud of sulk to darken TV since the Osborne kids. But somehow or other, the Goths power on. 

    And the Alpine setting suits Vixsyn, who, with her fuschia pigtails, bears an uncommon resemblance to Heidi … if, say, Heidi had left Clara and Grandfather and started dropping acid in a garret in Zurich.  I actually felt a light tug at my heartstrings when our pink liebchen began ferrying the “injured” Kent through the streets of Zermatt.  I don’t know if it said anything about love, but it said something about something.  And it erased, for just a second, the image that would not otherwise leave my mind: a spoonful of cheese.  Run, Zev, run!

    -- Louis Bayard

    Photo: Cord (left) and Jet must eat an entire pot of cheese fondue. Credit: CBS.

    'Amazing Race' recap: Who’s ready to search for the meaning of life?

    Goths “Running with hay-ay!  In the middle of India!”  Big Easy’s improvised crooning was catchy, and I could dance to it, but nothing better crystallized Sunday night’s “Amazing Race” episode than Jen’s stevedore-like sigh -- "Man ... " -- lamenting what one does for a million dollars.

    At that instant, she and Kisha were slapping patties of buffalo manure against the exterior wall of a Varavasi home.  And what did they get for their labor?  The giggles of onlooking gamines and the glare of the resident manure critic, who scornfully peeled away their handiwork and ordered them to try again.  Even in what Phil K is pleased to call “the religious heart of India,” everyone’s a critic.

    “Race” does have a curious habit of immersing its contestants in dung.  (It was just a year ago that Mallory became intimately familiar with the digestive systems of Russian cows.)  But last night’s most elemental moment came when Ron, seeking scraps of wisdom from various holy men, wandered off in a perfect fog of confusion.  “I overthought it,” he later explained, but the images showed us only a lost man -– over the hill and not picking up speed.  It was the first time I actually felt for the guy, and I found I wasn’t able to summon the expected satisfaction when he and his iron-jawed daughter were booted off for good.    

    Their departure also leaves me in the dire predicament of having no one to root against.  Oh, sure, there’s always Kent and Vixsyn, who manage to find some new way to be irksome in each episode.  I particularly loved the way Kent attached himself like a blood-borne parasite to Gary and then, solution in hand, galloped away, leaving the older man stranded in the Varavasi marketplace.  “Our codependency was kind of over,” Kent later said.  Which sort of implied that Kent was helping in the first place.

    But let’s face it: The Goths are just too psychotically entertaining to leave.  Vixsyn, in particular, after her meltdowns in Japan and China, seems to have become, if anything, more unhinged.  How are we ever going to top that moment when Vixsyn, having grown suddenly fearful of her water-taxi driver, flung herself into the Ganges?  I’d like to think she was cleansing her soul, but Kent was ready to commit her.  “Are you insane?” he bellowed.  “Are you crazy?  Get out of that water!  You gotta get a grip, sis!”  (Kent is about the best Sassy Gay Friend a girl could have.)  Previews of next week’s episode show Vixsyn giving Kent the Big Ultimatum: “If we get eliminated again, I swear to God I’m never going to speak to you again!”  If ever a threat had a taste of paradise to it. ...

    -- Louis Bayard

    Photo: Vyxsin and Kent in India. Credit: CBS.

     

    'Amazing Race' recap: Oh, Snapple!

    Race Ladies and gentlemen, thanks to “The Amazing Race,” we now have a new action franchise on our hands. 

    Call it “Oolong!”  Or “Death by Jasmine.”  Or “Crouching Papaya, Hidden Mango.”  The formula is simple.  We drop a set of hardy, trash-talking American adventurers into the tumult of Kolkata, India.  (Don’t forget to remind older viewers: It’s just Calcutta by another name.)  Then we subject them to the slow, excruciating, gut-wrenching, soul-scorching ordeal of … drinking tea! 

    Watch them tremble before the wrathful gaze of the Auctioneer (played by Omar Sharif or the next best thing) as they proffer their little porcelain cups for inspection.  “Is this the tea we drank in China?”  “No!” growls the Auctioneer.  Back they go to the long, long table of porcelain cups, all harboring liquids of uncertain provenance.  “How about this one?” they ask, tottering back.  “Begone!” thunders the Auctioneer.  Before long, full-grown basketball players are staggering across the floor with distended stomachs, and the young hearing-impaired male known as Luke collapses to the floor in an agony of frustration.  “It’s too hard!” he cries.  “Drink tea or die!” bellows the Auctioneer. 

    OK, cut me some slack, I’m working with what “Race” gave me: an hour-long infomercial for Snapple, complete with product placements, host endorsements and an actual by-God clue hidden (a bit too cleverly for some of the contestants) in the cap of a Snapple bottle.  By far the richest comic moment came when Gary and Mallory dashed to their first-place finish only to be informed that their reward was ... two more bottles of Snapple!  Aiieeee!  That’s like the pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.  Mallory, who had already drunk enough tea for China and maybe Taiwan, too, got that look of hysterical gaiety she gets in moments of high duress and could only be restored to health by talk of Indian feasts and Bollywood dancing and a million rupees.

    Continue reading »

    'Amazing Race' recap: Bullet in the bunny

    Race Oh, Cara and Jaime! Busty, spunky maidens of the pom-pom! How sad I am to see you leave "Amazing Race," just as I was beginning to to be able to tell you two cheerleaders apart. (Same thing happened with the volleyball players last season.) And how cold was it that Kent and Vixsyn U-turned you while you were standing right behind them? To speak in your own idiom: T-h-a-t s-t-i-n-k-s. All props, though, to Kent for explaining things in his idiom: “Putting a bullet in the Playboy bunny was the only thing that was going to save us.”

    And it saves the show, just a little. True, we will no longer hear the bunnies say things such as "China: It's like Hawaii all over again." But we can go on basking in the effulgence of the "dating Goths," a phrase that retains its strangeness no matter how many times you hear it. Who else could bring the same dysfunctional resonance to the act of carting solar tubes up several flights of stairs? Vixsyn to Kent: "This isn't rocket science, just walk ... Come on, go! ... Help me! Push! I can't do this by myself!" Kent to Vixsyn: "Hrrrggrrmnnn." Being fluent in Goth, I now translate: "Hey, Miss Pinkie, you spent half of last episode staring into a compass while our taxi took us to the wrong side of Japan, and you're busting my chops? I don't care if you're twice my size, I will take. You. Down."

    As it turned out, quite a few contestants were taken down ... by dinosaurs. Not living ones, thank God, although the task of erecting 20-foot dinosaur replicas did call to mind some of the richer moments from "Bringing Up Baby." Sure, Howard Hawks, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn might have come up with all that stuff about falling off ladders and realizing that the coccyx should be touching the whoozit and not the hubba hubba -- but that business with the scowling Chinese paleontologist peering at all the cantilevered dino-joints and snarling "Not safe"? Genius.

    All glory, laud and honor, then, to cowboys Jet and Cord, who zipped through their Jurassic Erector Set and hustled into first place, clearly expecting yet another free-trip-to-the-middle-of-nowhere prize. (Weren't we all? My son's lips were actually forming the word "Travelocity.") Instead, they each got $5,000 in cold, hard Oklahoma cash, which I pray they will spend not on hats but on the provisioning of an "Amazing Race" truth squad.

    For the second time in a row, you see, this show has refused to be a vehicle of escapism. Last week, we were confronted with the spectacle of a pre-seismic Japan with intact cities and nuclear reactors. This week, rather more bizarrely, contestants were tasked with "honoring China's past" by watching costumed figures in a "traditional Tibetan performance." Now, I've no doubt that the "Race" pre-production team nailed down every logistical wrinkle months in advance, but wasn't there a single book- or newspaper-reading soul to suggest that China's past conduct toward Tibet falls outside even the most charitable definition of "honor"? About the only thing that could have rescued this moment was the Dalai Lama popping up with a yellow envelope. (Personally, I think he'd be game.) But it does suggest future directions for the show: I look forward to next week's Indian adventure, in which Margie and Luke personally launch nuclear warheads at Pakistan while U-turning Sri Lanka.

    Dating Goths … Dating Goths … Still sounds weird.

    RELATED: Full Show tracker coverage of "The Amazing Race"

    -- Louis Bayard

    Photo: Jaime erects a dinosaur. Credit: Robert Voets/CBS.

    'The Amazing Race' recap: I'm going to shoot you

    Vixsyn Reality shows must, at times, give way to reality.  So it was that the opening sequences of this week’s “Amazing Race” presented us with … Japan, a country months away from its tsunami tragedy.  In light of what we now know, this "reality TV" may seem pretty frivolous.  If you’re looking for a way to help, here are some organizations accepting donations for disaster relief

    And with that, let’s return to the considerably more picayune stakes of this lovely piece of piffle we call “the Race.” 

    A show that, as Kent likes to say, is “about tragedies” but also “about miracles.”  Really, as Episode 4 reminded us, it’s about following directions.  Remember how Ron and Tony fell on their faces in last season’s opener because they couldn’t find their way to Stonehenge (despite being in an English-speaking country)?  It was pretty much the same thing with the dating Goths, who were supposedly bound for Narita airport but swerved instead into a Sartre play. 

                    Vixsyn: I’ve been staring at this compass for an hour, watching it go the wrong way.

                    Kent: It’s taken you this long to figure it out.

                    Vixsyn: I can’t believe it.

    Oh, Vixsyn.  Poor, dear, sweet, undermedicated Vixsyn, windmilling at every task that came your way.  Your manic monologues were perfect arias of self-flagellation: “I just want to find it so badly. ... I am so sorry. ... I just need to stay calm. ... I’m just so confused. ... I don’t know what I’m doing. ... I never thought of myself as a stupid person until this race. ... I don’t understand what I’m doing ever.”  How can you get mad at a gal who rides herself so hard?  “My little pink kitten is trying her best,” said consort Kent, whose patience has begun to seem Job-like. 

    Although, in that moment, he did look very much like "Rebecca's" Mrs. Danvers waiting on the second Mrs. De Winter.  And it might be added that, when Vixsyn contrived to leave her passport behind in the Narita airport, Kent was reduced to “Shining”-like litanies: “I’m going to shoot you, I’m going to shoot you, I’m going to shoot you."

    Shooting remains a very real possibility given that Vixsyn (or Kent, or both of them) also lost their fanny pack full o’ dough in the gondola to Spruce Meadow.  By now, of course, someone may have stolen it, but to my mind, the greater danger is that Ron ate it.  Hunger is one of the human imperatives that “Amazing Race” tends to glide over (along with sleep and money and, with the exception of Kisha and Jen, bathroom breaks).  Leave it to surly Ron to remind us: A fella’s gotta eat.  Even in the face of his daughter’s disapproval -- “You are so ungraceful.  You are so ridiculous.  Stop eating.  Get dressed” -- Ron couldn’t quit stuffing his hole with local fish and dragon buns and personally hammered nut confections and, hey, that border collie in Old Town Li Jiang looks kinda tasty, and what about those meaty blue-collar yaks that ferry tourists across the streams of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

    Me, I sense an even bigger meal in the works this season: filet in extremis.  For the second time in four episodes, teams have been informed that their pit stop is, in fact, not a pit stop but a … To Be Continued!  Now it may be that the producers want to give teams like Kent and Vixsyn -- “the pink and black attack” -- the chance to make up ground, but I think they’re lusting for that uncanny, uncomfortable moment at the end of so many “Race” episodes when pitch blackness has descended and the camera lights are blazing like judgment, and some baleful pair of contestants staggers out of the dark, no longer certain who or where they are.  Phil?  Phil, is that you?  In such a context, the chemical hue of Vixsyn’s hair will, I am confident, assume a transcendental power: the pink after the storm.  “Come on,” I can hear Kent whispering.  “Come on, Big Vix.”

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    Full Show Tracker coverage of 'The Amazing Race'

    -- Louis Bayard

    Photo: Vyxsin and Kent. Credit: Robert Voets/CBS.

    'The Amazing Race' recap: I want my mama

    Amazingmike A strange kettle of fish, "Amazing Race"-ers: wooden horses, petty theft, automobile vending machines, adult diapers, Commodore Perry, hypothermia and helpful hearse drivers. But let's start, shall we, with that single history-making moment. Jaime and Cara found the one man in civilization immune to their beauty.

    Then again, the guy had just seen his side-view mirror decimated by the American gals in the midst of Tokyo traffic. And so, rather than bathing in their effulgence, he took the strategic course of getting on his phone. "We can't even have a conversation," complained Cara. "I just keep hearing 'Hm ... hm.'" Which may be the Japanese way of saying "911," because pretty soon, the police were there and things were looking dire for our hot redheads. They staggered to the finish line in darkness, certain they had lost, only to learn they were still in it.

    Yes, elbowing them out of last place was the Agony Dynasty, Mike and Mel, who met their end in a vast muck and mire, scrabbling for -- and this is not a typo -- buried frogs. Frogs of luck, to be specific. And although these frogs were not, despite Cord's deeply held beliefs, alive, they might as well have been, given how cunningly they hid themselves from our crawling, shivering, half-naked contestants, who had to endure the additional indignity of being showered with mud by angry young Japanese men. It was a theater of cruelty such as Antonin Artaud might have endorsed. Or, as Kisha put it, in her characteristically direct way: "I got dirt in places dirt should not be right now." What a relief to report that Kent's makeup held up through it all. And how pleasant to hear him get his comeuppance from his normally supportive gal pal.

                Kent: Were you cold?

                Vixsyn: No, 'cause I was working really hard.

    You've been served, Little Pale Prince. And the same fate may come to Flight Time and Big Easy, who inadvertently swiped Christina's fanny pack and, instead of returning it, dropped it in the men's changing room and ran. Sweet Georgia Brown! In their defense, they may have been deranged by the experience of standing under a cascade of 45-degree water from Mt. Fuji. "I want my mama," whimpered the big Trotter. If that's what Shinto cleansing rituals are like, give me the mud pit and the frogs.

    And may Buddha preserve me from Ron, who bids fair to become the season's breakout villain, snarling and grouching and hurling invective and making us, all in all, rather grateful that his daughter is getting married. Soon. Fortune so far has smiled on the teams that leaven their competitive fire with abashed grins. First place was once again seized by Zev and Justin, a better married couple than most married couples. And right behind them came those Kentucky dynamos, who mean to win and who mean to have a good time doing it. Racing to her rendezvous with mud in a traditional two-piece, beauty queen Mallory was heard to cry: "This is Miss America all over again!" I believe that's as close to social critique as "Amazing Race" has ever veered.

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    Full 'Amazing Race' coverage

    -- Louis Bayard

    Photo: Mike in the mud. Credit: Robert Voets/CBS.

    'Amazing Race' recap: Son of a Buck

    Amazing In honor of that counterprogramming known as the Oscars, let’s break down tonight’s episode.

    Best Foreign-Language Film:  “The Adventures of Jed and Cord,” whose stars manage to make the English language sound enticingly alien every time they open their mouths.  “Everybody else was lawnnng gawn….You ready to hawwllll butt?....Son of a buck!....Oh, my gravy!”  In addition to surviving their encounter with that strange ecosystem known as “ocean,” the Oklahoma brothers managed to put themselves back in contention without losing an ounce of their yokel-ingenue charm.  O.  Kay.

    Best Art Direction: The Living Desert, “a vast barren landscape in Australia’s Outback,” and home to mutant, hyperventilating marsupials who hop through the dreary streets looking for the mystical “intersection of Mercury and Bismuth.”

    Best Screenplay (or line therefrom): “But they’re going to have to do it … dressed up as kangaroos!” (Phil K)

    Runner-Up:  “Vixsyn, please get me children!” (Kent, searching for natives with whom to do a victory dance)

    Continue reading »

    'The Amazing Race' recap: Stop talking and go

    Amazing “Are you ready to race around the world one more time?” asks Phil Keoghegan.

    “Yes!” you cry from the depths of your futon sofa.  “Yes!”

    Silly goose, Phil’s not talking to you, he’s addressing that strangely familiar crowd of folks gathered around the wind turbines of Palm Springs.  All those also-rans and coulda-wons and shoulda-wons who, in the current parlance, have “unfinished business.”  Which is a nice way of saying that, in some previous installment of “Amazing Race,” they blew it.  Who can forget LaKisha and Jen pausing for that fateful bathroom break?  Zev and Justin misplacing a passport?  Gary and Mallory wandering like Paul Bowles characters through the wilds of Oman?

    Yes, for the first time ever, “Amazing Race” is going back for the ones left behind.  The guys who picked the wrong taxi or ticked off the wrong team or came a-cropper on some fiendish Road Block.  “There’s not a winner among any of you,” Phil sweetly declares, but in time-honored American fashion, all 11 teams get a second chance.  And what do we get?  Why, the chance to spend more time with people we never expected to see again.  Oh, sure, maybe you thought you’d had enough of the “dating Goths” the first time around, but now you can marvel all over again at Kent’s teeny-weeniness -- the way he folds into Vyxsin’s body like a pale pouty handbag.  And isn’t it nice to gaze once more on Ron’s kindly Yoda face and Kris’ granitic pecs and warm ourselves in the competitive kindling that is Margie-and-Luke?

    How little has changed, really, since these folks first sprawled across our TV screens.  The Globetrotters are still grinning; Jaime is still thrusting out her “girls”; and that pious little firecracker Mallory still vomits up prayers when the going gets rough.  It remains to be seen whether she’ll seek counseling from evangelical-minister-turned-gay-activist Mel White, who is still trotting good-naturedly after his goldfish-eyed son. 

    And, best of all, those cheeky “Race” producers are still up to their old tricks.

    KRIS: Amanda’s good at word puzzles.
    Cut to AMANDA, staring slack-jawed at a word puzzle.
    AMANDA: Whaaa?

    This wouldn’t be “Amazing Race,” after all, if contestants didn’t cling to some threads of self-delusion. 

    Continue reading »
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